experiences
Comments 16

Discuss: What’s good about being a TCK?

My graduate research is focused on Third Culture Kid experiences, and I recently came across this sentence:  “Unfortunately, the literature has tended to focus on difficulties TCKs and ATCKs experience.”

It was in an article by TCK researcher Ann Cottrell titled “TCKs and Other Cross Cultural Kids.” It made me think about my own challenges as a TCK. But I realized my life as a TCK was filled with more happy memories than difficulties.

Yes, TCKs may often struggle with identity issues, reverse culture shock, rootlessness, and loss. But there’s much more to the TCK journey than that.

TCKs get to travel all over the world. We get to meet people from all different walks of life. We get to learn about different cultures and experience them first hand. We might even pick up a language or two.

Then, there are the advantageous traits we obtain and master–adaptability, resilience, open-mindedness, and cultural acceptance. TCKs usually maintain strong and close family bonds, since the immediate family is a source of stability for us. Living with my younger brother, I can attest to how important it is to have someone that understands what you are going through.

As we grow up, we get a better understanding of our highly mobile lifestyle, and make the most out of it. We come to realize how much we know about the world, and how much more there is to know. We might never know how to answer the question “Where are you from?” without wanting to go into our life story. But those are consequences I’m more than happy to live with as a TCK.

I often get people listening to my story and telling me how great it must have been travelling the world. As I continue my research and write up my proposal, I know how important it is to study the struggles of TCKs. But to get a complete idea of the TCK life, the advantages need to be addressed, too.

What advantages of the TCK life do you think should be given more attention?

16 Comments

  1. Hi there,

    Just discovered your website today – fantastic! What a great little corner on the internet for Third Culture Kids and all the like.

    There are (what some may see as) disadvantages for TCKs, but as you said, there are many advantages. Sometimes, it depends on if you are a “glass half full or glass half empty” person.

    The advantages:

    * You feel at home in more than one place.

    * You are able to relate to different kinds of people on many levels, therefore building a variety of relationships.

    * You can sing Happy Birthday in 4 languages, know how to count to 10 in about 7 languages and greet people and curse at them in 10 languages…

    * You are an open-minded individual and very savvy.

    * You tend to see the bigger picture, as your world view isn’t contained to one place.

    * Networking is a piece of cake. And it covers the 4 corners of the world.

    * You read the news in different languages (and time zones) to compare the facts.

    * You can make your mom’s chicken adobo, your father’s lasagna, and your cousin’s jerk chicken. International chef!

    Thanks for the opportunity for sharing!

    Maria

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  2. Adele Barlow says

    Hey Bryn, great question. In my opinion the main advantages of the nomadic life are that it gives TCKs:

    – An automatic global perspective, and genuine interest in global happenings: an ability to relate on a meaningful level to global causes and events as they unfold
    – An acute empathy for other cultures, as opposed to mouthing cultural sensitivities for the sake of it
    – A certain neutrality – the ability to separate ourselves from our own nationality and home culture, and remain strangely objective when judging our surroundings
    – Hyper-flexibility and ability to adapt quickly to new surroundings
    – The ability to contextualize everything that is happening around us, and to step outside the microcosm we’re in and see it for what it is

    Hope your research goes well – would be interested in reading the final piece🙂

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  3. I’ve always thought that the best part about being a TCK are the enormous social networks. In today’s day and age, we are able to keep in touch with so many more TCKs and friends around the world than in the past. It’s one of the biggest differences between modern TCKs and older TCKs.

    These enormous networks mean that we will always have places to stay with people when they travel. It means that when a big news event breaks across the world, we check in with our friends living in that area. It makes the whole world incredibly “local” to a TCK.

    This area isn’t studied too closely, I think!

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  4. I love being a TCK. “Home” is always a fluid concept, but there’s such resilience that comes with the fact that you can be home anywhere. I find comfort knowing that I could move anywhere, and know I’ll be okay. And, like Steph said, chances are I probably know someone no matter where I go.

    Also, I think having such an international background really helps me to be able to connect with people who are much older than I am. I work at a law firm, where, as a 24-year old, being young can be intimidating as I’m meeting with attorneys who have practiced for over 15 years, and heads of legal at Fortune 500 companies. Yet, I find that when I start telling them my background and where I grew up, there’s a weird connection and piqued interest that happens… and I realize they start seeing me beyond my age.

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  5. Cynthia says

    Hi Bryn!

    Great thought-provoking question and open-ended depending on who you are asking🙂

    As a TCK I have learned that we have the following advantageous characteristics:

    – The ENDLESS amount of curiosity! We never seem to be satisfied with just one answer. There will always be questions after answers after questions after answers…etc.
    – Adaptability: Especially at this day and age, people are forced to make significant changes in their lives but for TCKs it’s a no brainer.
    – The ability to shrink the size of this planet: We have friends spanning various continents. I can name at least one person that I know that is from, raised or currently living in the majority of the continents. Doesn’t that make the world seem so much smaller?
    – Even if you don’t understand a particular language, you can enjoy the music/movies/stories in that language (even if they don’t have translations!).

    Good luck with your research🙂

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  6. I agree with Suzanne, having all the different backgrounds causes others to view you as more mature. Not quite sure why that is.. I think we’re exposed to so many different cultures at such a young age we develop adaptability at a much faster rate.
    I do find that TCKs mature slower when it comes to developing intimate or very close relationships. I think we’re used to networking and meeting A LOT of people but we never really get to spend too much quality time with that person b/c we’re used to being overstimulated. I know I have a hard time with building close relationships.

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  7. I completely agree with you, Suzie, and you too Alaine….

    People think of you as more mature simply by virtue of how much you’ve experience. Part of me think that’s pretty legitimate (maybe I’m biased).

    I also agree that TCKs pretty much bite at intimate relationships. They aren’t used to being tied down to anything… and I find it hard to develop friendships stronger than the ones I made in high school (international school).

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  8. Carolina Gouveia says

    I am also a TCK. Born in Brazil lived in Brazil, Mexico, Greece, Taiwan, China and now I’m at Pepperdine University in Malibu California.
    I did the International Baccalaureate (IB) in my high school in Beijing and wrote an Extended Essay on the psychological pros and cons of being a TCK, might be interesting and helpful for you.

    Let me know if you want me to send it to you.
    🙂

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  9. I just came across this site and am very excited by the comments I have read. I am a single mom of a 7 y.o. daughter. We recently left the US to live in Oman. My daughter already has familiarity with Spanish and is now learning Arabic. I have believed from the start that her international experiences will be a big plus in her life. I will keep tuned into this site and have her also read it. Just this evening she said to me that next she would like to live in Greece!

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  10. -The perspective with which to compare cultures a bit more objectively than most people do.

    -Appreciation for being an observer.

    If you are interested, I blog about language and life abroad (classic TCK stuff). One post was in response to this website, actually.

    See: maryofarabia@blogspot.com

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  11. Galangala says

    @Maria,
    Have you considered that, for people for whom the TCK experience has been one of more disadvantages than advantages, instead of it being an matter of essentialistic & dismissive personality ‘typing’ (“glass half full vs glass half empty people”) have you considered the huge range of different variables that can affect a TCK’s life and over which they can have no control?
    I mean, that’s great that you have had a fortunate, enjoyable, enriching TCK experience, you’ve obviously been very lucky in your circumstances. Some TCKs have to deal with things like parental abuse, having no geographical ‘home’ anchor, with being moved at a young age to culturally closed and hostile places where it’s impossible for them to integrate into the local culture at all, having their lives threatened in political coups, etc, etc.
    For the lucky TCKs to carry on as if it’s a matter of what type of “person” they are, and how their “positive attitude” (translation: fortunate circumstances) makes them “better” than those ‘negative, complaining types’ (translation: the unlucky TCKs who’ve had, through no fault of their own, huge added challenges to deal with, of which the lucky ones have ZERO understanding) is just wallowing in undeserved self-congratulation.

    Maybe this is why some TCKs seem so spoiled? It’s really ironic when these same fortunate TCKs typically also congratulate themselves on being “open minded”, “tolerant” and even “understanding”!

    If you’ve had a good TCK experience, you really should realize that you’ve been very lucky.

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  12. Galangala has an EXCELLENT point. It’s exceptionally rare for people to want to hear about the following traumatic experiences in overlap with the TCK experience, especially how these affect them, why & how they become resilient etc. over time. (And note with some TCKs all of these traumatic life events happen in one go.)

    Homelessness, Bankruptcy & Debt, Divorce, Deaths of Loved Ones, Living on the Street, Lack of Close Short/Long-Term Relationships, Emotional/Physical/Verbal Abused/Abusive, Oppression, Drug Abuse, Broken Families, Adopted/Illegitimate Children etc.

    I would love to see these particular issues raised as a BALANCE (with the POSITIVES together with the NEGATIVES) as they are often the most uncomfortable for most people to talk about, especially when we all need to talk about these experiences and share these stories to better our understanding of every person’s experience (TCK or not), becoming more tolerant of different perspectives & learning to be compassionate even within the TCK community, and share a more balanced vision of what a TCK can experience within their lifetime.

    And apologies in advance if I seem “negative” but I do want to see/read/hear more of a balanced perspective in the domain of TCK research.

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  13. Alicia M. says

    Well, if I’m not mistaken the original article started out by saying that “Unfortunately, the literature has tended to focus on difficulties TCKs and ATCKs experience.” and the author was trying to focus on the positives – in this article and so asked for examples of advantages – which have been given.

    In my experience of teaching on TCKs and MKs I also find that the tendency is to talk about the difficulties more since these are what need to be given the most attention in the area of member care. (If things are good you don’t need so much help getting through).

    We do need a balanced perspective overall. But his article was specific in asking for advantages and that it what it did.

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  14. oniongut says

    I have to definitely agree with the idea of family closeness. My sisters are my best friends! It always ends up sounding strange to me when people talk about not getting along with their siblings, because I share so much of my life with them and they can really know what I’m going through. Great article!

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